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My first trip to MDAS (Miami Dade Animal Services)

July 30, 2010

Luis and I made our first trip to MDAS today. My mother and father both have had some health issues, and while my mom was convincing my dad to just give in and adopt a doxie (his love), she realized that a dog will help her to heal and improve her spirits as well. She loves doxies too, but after our little Jingles passed  (R.I.P.), she wants to have a larger dog who can tolerate my aunt’s larger dogs’ roughhousing around a farm. She wants a younger dog that will get used to long car trips so she can travel with him up north (to my aunt’s farm) for visits, and then back here (where she lives). I encouraged her to pick a dog from a rescue here or MDAS because they are all completely full of eligible animals.  She told me what she was looking for and I went in with a list of numbers plus a bag full of all the paperwork they could possibly need.

The first thing I was struck by was the location, which really isn’t great (sort of far, not easy to find, etc.), but I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue that they don’t want animal services in their neighborhood, so it makes sense that it is in a more commercial area. Once we parked I saw that there are separate areas for pets being received, pet owners having services rendered, and adoptions. Adoptions are done in the back with the kennels. To get to the adoption area, you walk through the service area in the front, following blue paw prints on the floor to a pair of doors. When you walk through the double doors there is a small desk with a computer so that a volunteer or worker can help you find information on specific dogs. There were two girls and a young man there today, and they were all very helpful but very clearly overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe the number of people there on a Friday during work hours. I especially couldn’t believe some of the things I saw—pet owners trying to bring their pets back into the kennels (seriously?) and young kids strolling through unattended (though I imagine the dogs were happy to see these boys who just wanted to pet every dog). The girl at the desk informed me that the first dog we came in to put a hold on already had 3 holds, so I gave her numbers of some other dogs that we were interested in and she told me where they were.  There was one in the main adoption space, and 2 in the restricted west wing which we could tour with a guide.

After we had our “map” (list with room letters), we went into the kennel room where one of the dogs we were interested in was held. The little guy was asleep in his kennel and I didn’t want to wake him; based on the surroundings, a little sleep seems like the only peace he gets!  The smell of animals was a little strong, but to be honest I’ve been in people’s homes that smelled far worse (especially in college when cleaning methods tend to be more lax lol). I knew when I saw the little bear of a pup that we would place a hold on him, and while there is one other hold in front of us, the girl encouraged us to place a hold anyhow if we were interested. Apparently, people place holds and then never show up all the time

 Luis and I walked through the kennels in the back to see the larger dogs (in case our hold falls through) so we could come back for another boy. The area is outside, but there are fans and the roof is clearly insulated. It would be like housing dogs on your outdoor covered patio. Some dogs were so happy to have visitors and they jumped and barked for our attention. Others just laid quietly, clearly seasoned veterans who had seen dozens of folks pass by. One black lab didn’t really move, but he looked up and smiled his lab smile at us, wagging his tail until we passed; then he resumed his position with his head on his paws, pressed against the door of his kennel. Some pups were playing, some resting; some cared that people were there to visit (hooray! finally!), but others had clearly given up all hope. The pups in the center of the outdoor space seemed to have more visitors and were clearly in better spirits than the dogs on the edges. There was an adorable white and brown medium sized girl with a cupcake bandana who was so pretty and sweet. She came to the gate and licked at the air, sticking her nose out for a scratch. I obliged, and when I looked into her eyes I couldn’t take it anymore. Knowing that there is a chance that she wouldn’t find a home, and knowing that I really can’t take every single one home with me, I started to cry. We placed our hold and got out of there without ever making it into the west wing (which I hear is even worse).

The entire experience was completely overwhelming. The animal services workers and volunteers were unbelievably kind given how clearly outnumbered they were by dogs, let alone visitors (not all of them nearly as kind or polite). Luis remarked, “It’s like visiting the DMV, but if the DMV killed puppies.” He then asked me if we could not go back unless it was to bring a dog home.

In the car, we talked about the people working there and how could they do that every single day. We also talked about improvements that could be made—how the paths leading through the kennels should be painted green and the walls should be brighter. The shelter space should focus on the celebration of rebirth of these dogs into families—their chance for a second life—instead of the gray walls and crushing feeling that you have when you pass through those double doors. One thing we noted was that if a group of volunteers got together and got permission to go in after hours, with enough people and enough paint ($100 worth?) you could potentially transform the mood of the space (paint the walls blue with clouds, paint the paths grass green, etc). We also noted a gap in marketing. Some of the dogs listed can’t even be adopted by a Miami-Dade resident because of breed legislation, but as a Broward resident I can honestly say that the existence of MDAS never crossed my mind when looking for a rescued pet; we always went to the Broward shelters. I wish there was more partnership between the districts—that you could pick up an MDAS brochure at Broward vets or shelters and vice versa. I’ve been to the Broward shelters and seen people frustrated that there aren’t enough dogs that they want available, but I’ve never really heard someone say “Go to Miami-Dade. They have more dogs there.”  I’ve also never heard them say, “Here is a list of rescues.” And to be honest, I saw tons of dogs at MDAS today that would meet the needs of someone looking for a specific breed or size.

When we got home, we walked in the door and were greeted by a very different scene. Toby ran around the house clutching one of his (too many) toys in his mouth, Tippy jumped into the air and spun with delight, and Gabby barked and arfed and chased our feet. I started to tear up again, and Toby dropped his toy in my lap and licked my face. There are so many dogs waiting for a chance and who want to be just like him, loved and licking their family’s faces.

I have more respect now for our DRSF pullers and shelter watchers than ever before, because I know that I don’t have the stomach for it. I am more proud than ever to volunteer in ways that I can help with rescue, but I wish that I could do more. Most of all, I hope that people remember that their pets are not disposable; they are furry family members.  Please spay or neuter your dog, and if you really don’t think you can own a pet anymore please contact a rescue for help before going to a shelter.  If you’re not sure that you are ready for a dog, please consider fostering for a rescue to see how you like pet ownership, or volunteering in other ways with a rescue or shelter.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra Sanchez permalink
    July 30, 2010 12:49 pm

    Ashely, Your story is absolutely amazing. And you are right about shelters not promoting other shelters, they don’t do it. It’s one of my dreams to educate people especially children, they are the ones that always want a pupppy for Christmas…eventually the majority of them end up at a shelter because they are larger than they thought they would be or because they are not potty trained or for whatever reason there is…..There’s always one. We can’t rescue them all, but if people did exactly what you did, visit the shelter and see what you saw…..People would not but from Puppy stores or breaders.

    • July 30, 2010 1:10 pm

      I completely agree. It’s incredible what they have—every breed or age or gender will pass through those doors. I would challenge anyone to name their perfect pet, and I can guarantee I will find it within a month at one of the South Florida shelters. It was really an eye-opening, life-changing experience as a pet lover.

  2. Patches'Adventures permalink
    July 30, 2010 12:50 pm

    I feel the same way when I go to the shelter: overwhelmed and extremely sad. But I’m so grateful to those who spend their days working and volunteering for the benefit of animals.

  3. July 30, 2010 3:52 pm

    Some people will argue that animals are animals and that we should all have a little more sympathy for the homeless and the poor. That its ok to put these animals down because they are less than human. What they forget is that the only reason there are so many breeds is because we as a people have decided that it be so. We have bred them for functions such as shepherding or guarding. We have bred them for aesthetics, all different sizes, colors and shapes. What we have bred we must protect. It is not their fault that we have betrayed them. It is, however, ours. On a theological note, to the people that say that God has given us dominion over the animals, I would argue that its difficult to have dominion over something that is out of your control and more difficult still if you don’t care to care. Dominion implies working for the benefit of, not total abandonment. And if you can’t see God speaking to you through their love, which,by the way, is unconditional, then you clearly don’t know God.

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